When Search Engines Aren't Search Engines
Search Engines vs. Directories vs. Pay Per Click Engines, and why you *need* to understand the difference

by Mike Jacobs, founder WebMogul


When Web users and marketers say "Search Engines", they are often putting three fairly distinct kinds of sites (and marketing efforts) into one category.  However, most search traffic is comprised of the users of three very distinct types of sites:  Search Engines, Directories, and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Engines.  Search Engine Optimization experts will have the strategies and tools to target your ideal customers through all of these methods effectively and efficiently.



Search engines, such as HotBot, Excite, Google, and AltaVista, are the most popular type of search site.  Their listings are created automatically. Search engines crawl the web and, then, index pages according to the properties of the page itself.  When users perform a search on Excite, the pages that the engine deems "relevant" are returned to the user.

What SEO can do…

Search engine optimization means ensuring that your web pages are accessible to search engines and focused in ways that help improve the chances they will be found.  Search engines rate pages relevance to a particular keyword based on numerous rules and scoring systems that the engines keep very secret.  The rules can relate to the text on the page, where the site links to, whether other sites link to the site, META tags (more later), titles, or almost anything else that can help determine relevance.

Search engine positioning specialists attempt to reverse engineer these rules, and modify existing pages accordingly to generate better ratings for the keywords they deem important to their traffic.  While many folks get caught up in the rules themselves, the real difficulty lies in:

  1. Selecting the proper keywords (more important than any other factor) in conjunction with client,

  2. Balancing page optimization with company branding and marketing (is getting tons of traffic helpful if your home page says nothing but "Britney Spears" hundreds of times?

In the end, there are no "search engine secrets" that will guarantee a top listing; the game is about careful analysis, and leveraging the strengths of the site and other marketing efforts.



A directory such as Yahoo depends on humans for its listings; there is no automated "engine" searching the Web.  You submit a short description to the directory for your entire site, or editors write one for sites they review.  A search looks for matches only in the descriptions submitted. Many directories, if no results are found, will give you results from an associated search engine; Yahoo will feed Google results if nothing relevant is found in its own directory.

What SEO can do…

SEO specialists can help the client to create the ultimate directory descriptions for your site, targeting the keywords most likely to be searched on by relevant traffic.  Specialists will also help select the optimum categories to maximize the number of searchers viewing your listings, and ultimately clicking through to your site. 



A Pay Per Click (also known as Pay Per Ranking, Pay Per Placement or Pay Per Position) search engines charge companies to list their sites at the top of the search results through bidding.  GoTo is the first and most prominent of these PPC engines.

Companies select keywords that refer to their product or service, and determine how much they are willing to spend for each.  When a user does a search on GoTo on a particular keyword, the highest bid is listed first, the next highest second, and so on.  Advertising sites pay fees only when the listing is clicked on (and the visitor is sent to the bidding site).

Pay-Per-Click search engines are becoming an extremely important part of the search landscape.  Most importantly, numerous search engines, including AltaVista, Lycos, and HotBot, are augmenting their "regular" with results from PPC engines (usually GoTo).

What SEO can do…

SEO specialists can help you select the ideal keywords (often hundreds) to access the largest pool of relevant traffic, and determine the ideal bid for each keyword (some keywords will be more valuable to you than others).  They can also help you to create the ideal bid listings to maximize clicks from the searchers you want, and reduce clicks from the searchers you don't.  Once traffic starts flowing (which is usually right away), they can continually refine bid listings depending on the calculated value of visitors from each particular keyword to maximize the value of each user, while lowering the cost.


For more information, Contact Us



 ------ ------